Labor dispute prompts call for boycott of Westport’s Matsu Sushi
WESTPORT — It has been nearly two years since two Matsu Sushi chefs were fired, and despite a judge ordering they be reinstated, no progress has been made.
“The two workers who were fired back in December 2017 for coming together to refuse a 36-hour shift have now won their second decision from the National Relations Labor board,” Sarah Ahn said at a Tuesday protest of the downtown restaurant.
Ahn, an organizer with Flushing Workers Center, has been a staunch advocate for the fired workers — Liguo Ding and Jianming Jiang. State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, former workers of the restaurant and their supporters also attended the protest.
“We’re here standing together along with senator Haskell and other members of the community to say enough is enough,” Ahn said. “We’re calling on the Westport community to boycott this restaurant until Marty Chen does the right thing reinstate the workers and pay back what’s owed to them.”
Jiang and Ding, both residents of Queens, N.Y., were fired for reportedly refusing to complete a 36-hour shift to finish a large lunch order from Bridgewater Associates. In October, National Labor Relations Board Judge Kenneth W. Chu ruled the restaurant had illegally fired workers and ordered them immediately reinstated.
However, the two were never reinstated. Several protests later, the two won a June 28 appeal made by Matsu’s owners. The labor board’s decision again stated the restaurant had to reinstate the employees within 14 days of the order.
But as of Tuesday, Ding and Jiang were still without jobs.
“The boss ignored the court’s order,” Jiang said. “To this day we haven’t heard from the boss. Enough is enough. We ask the community to support and continue to boycott the restaurant until the boss reinstates Ding and I, and also compensate for lost wages.”
Jiang said since being fired, he and Ding have been unable to find work due to a language barrier and their ages. Jiang, 58, said while they have found temporary jobs, they have not found any long-term solutions.
Haskell and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg sent a letter to owners Ziqiao Cao and Kim Ming Cheng in May, encouraging them to meet with the workers. At the protest, Haskell said it is important everyone abides by the rule of law in a society.
“I spend most of my day thinking and fighting for what the law should be and how it should be written,” he said. “What we’re doing today is entirely different and that’s fighting for the fact we all should follow the law.”
While growing up, Haskell remembered Matsu Sushi as being a staple for his family. But despite this connection, he said he could not support the restaurant if they mistreated their workers.
“My message to the ownership of Matsu Sushi is listen to the National Labor Relations Board, reinstate the workers, and I’ll be the first in line,” he said. “My message to the Westport residents is please, please do not break the picket line. Instead get to know these remarkable men and women whose rights were violated.”
Sal Liccione, a newly appointed member of the Representative Town Meeting, said he wants state and local officials to investigate the matter to help the workers get their jobs back. He also asked for a statement from the Board of Selectmen on the ongoing matter.
“I’m calling on any entity who eats in this town not to come to Matsu Sushi at this point until the workers get re-hired,” Liccione said.
Without the owners’ cooperation with the rulings, a long road may be ahead for the workers. Ahn explained the labor board has its own way of enforcing rulings, but if the owners continue fighting the decision, it could take upward of a year before any resolution.
“We’re always open to talking,” Ahn said of the workers’ relationship with their former employers.
Attorney James Bhandary-Alexander, who represents the fired workers, said he remains hopeful the Matsu’s owners will rehire his clients and resolve the case.
“The main point I would make is this case isn’t getting any better for the defendants,” he said. “They have not yet convinced anyone that these firings were legitimate.”
Mark Fang, who represents the restaurant’s owners, said his clients are now planning to appeal the decision.
“We feel the board made several errors in its decision,” Fang said. “The owners would very much like to resolve the case in a fair way.”
The building that houses Matsu Sushi is owned by Fine Arts Realty LLC, in which former Westport first selectman and WestportNow editor Gordon Joseloff is a partial owner.
“I can’t comment on any conversations the company may or may not have had with the tenant,” Joseloff said Wednesday. “But I can say I deplore exploitation of workers in any situation.”
Correction: This story was updated Aug. 14. The original story said Benjamin Xue was the attorney representing the restaurant owners. It has been confirmed he no longer represents them.